From rail to sea: exporting South Carolina manufacturing

CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD)– Across the nation, thousands of jobs are available that don’t require a traditional 4 year degree. They’re commonly referred to a “blue-collar,” and in the lowcountry the need to fill these jobs is growing.

More South Carolina manufacturers, means more products to export.

In 2016 the South Carolina Ports Authority passed a major milestone when the 2 millionth BMW was loaded onto a carrier. Getting the vehicles from the BMW plant in Greer to the open water takes teams of people.

Nearly 3 times a week massive vessels are docked at the Columbus Street Terminal. Each one leaves with more than 3000 brand new BMW X5s. Most of them bound for Europe and Asia.

“It’s one of the most consistent commodities that we have enjoyed,” says the James Pinckney the vice president of the local 1422 chapter of the International Longshoremen’s Association.

Pinckney is a third generation longshoremen, who says he’s seen the ebbs and flows of the industry since 1984. He says right now the business is good and the demand is high.

“that [demand] is pretty much dictated by the volume and right now we have a volume that is increasing.”

Hundreds of BMW’s are loaded everyday, and the port is preparing to start exporting Volvo in 2019. The vehicles are loaded onto the container ships by the I.L.A.’s roll on roll off division, otherwise known as “roro’s.”

You don’t need a college degree to become a roro. You only have to pass a background check, a physical, and undergo the special training. Pinckney says drivers begin with wages around 20 dollars an hour, but he says those who want to achieve more often do.

“If you have a mind to work, I’ll just put it this way without giving numbers, you can do quite well,” says Pinckney who added that benefits and opportunity make driving a great job.

While many of the drivers are part of the local 1422, it’s not a requirement in South Carolina.

Pinckney says during a hiring period last month, they received over 2000 applications. 1500 new workers met the criteria and were hired. He says with new manufacturing on the horizon, the time to get involved is now.

“It’s a great time to be a South Carolinian, a Charlestonian and in anyway involved in the maritime industry.”

Across the yard, an entirely different group of workers are responsible for unloading each car from the train. Unlike longshoremen, these jobs are for non union state ports workers, but much like roro’s there is a growing need for drivers.

“The more rail cars we get in the more we’re going to need people. It’s a constant,” says Andre Hayes, operations coordinator for the BWM project.

Hayes says they unload and park about 800 cars everyday. They’re looking for motivated workers who are care about taking care of customer products.

One of those drivers is Brandon Johnson. Johnson says he worked in security before finding out about driving. It was something he never considered.

“It’s great pay, great people to work with, it’s not a very hard job,” says Johnson who began unloading vehicles a few years ago.

You only need a high school diploma and a valid driver’s license, but a steady hand helps. Each car is parked 12 inches apart in a designated space in the lot.

Wages begin around 17 to 18 dollars an hour, but the port says those who work hard have opportunity to move up. They also are willing to work with those who want to get a degree later on.

For more information about applying head to:

http://www.scspa.com/resources/careers/

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